To the Editor:
Stephen Hunter's piece on what makes a movie actor a star ["The Duke Had It; Olivier Didn't," June 13] was entertaining, fun and, of course, a total crock.
Consider: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, what if the one Ingrid Bergman walked into had been owned by, say, John Wayne instead of Humphrey Bogart? Would movie magic have been made? My point is, casting is everything in determining which movie actors will achieve stardom.
Bogart started out on the stage playing in musical comedies, of all things. In the 1930s he was typecast as a gangster, which earned him a modicum of popularity but hardly a reputation as a big star. And then along came the role of Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941). Bingo.
Bogart projected on the silver screen the perfect wisecracking tough guy with a conscience. He moved in the shadows of the cinematic black-and-white world with an easy grace, his body wrapped in a trench coat, the turned-down brim of his hat accentuating the angular face and stiff upper lip. And he delivered the script's whip-smart dialogue in the distinctive rat-a-tat-tat style that was just right for the part.
Bogart's next movie was "Casablanca" (1942), followed by the pictures that established his partnership with Lauren Bacall: "To Have and Have Not" (1944) and "The Big Sleep" (1946). In these films, he played a character similar to his role in "The Maltese Falcon." Humphrey Bogart made a lot of movies during his lifetime, but in only a handful did he adopt the persona with which he is identified. Yet to his fans, Bogey was Sam Spade. He was Philip Marlowe. He was Rick in "Casablanca." In all those other parts in all those other movies, well, he was just play-acting.
Moving on to the 1950s and John Wayne, here was a fella whose box office appeal was clearly a product of shrewd typecasting. The Duke's venue was limited to westerns and war movies in which he played the same character over and over and over again: the rugged, taciturn, two-fisted, butt-kicking, larger-than-life hero who always triumphed over his adversaries, never took a bath unless he really wanted to, and refused to kowtow to any gol-derned woman.
John Wayne movies were definitely for men. Oh, women went to his movies, too, but only if their dates promised to take them the next time to a flick starring Cary Grant (the only actor ever to maintain the image of elegance and sophistication while taking pratfalls) or Jimmy Stewart (still going strong in the 1950s) or Paul Newman (then the sexiest man alive) or Rock Hudson (so romantic, how were we to know he was gay?).
In the last analysis, it's pretty easy to figure out what men want in movie stars, but women's tastes are far more eclectic.
To the Editor:
Yet another tribute to John Wayne ["The Duke Had It; Olivier Didn't," June 13]. Apparently, even Stephen Hunter couldn't bring himself to take a serious shot at old John.
As a youngster, I too believed that Mr. Wayne had won the war. But as I grew older (and more cranky), the irony began to grate.
John Wayne is an American symbol, to be sure. But one with flaws that fans should be aware of. Many rising stars made the hard choice of at least going into uniform during World War II (for real). Some made the even harder choice of going to front-line duty. But Mr. Wayne opted to stay home with his newfound stardom. Perhaps this is one reason the Duke so respected director John Ford, a Navy veteran and man of principle.
To the Editor:
The best example of star quality in female actresses would have to be Ali MacGraw. Here is a lady who started her acting career at age 30 and ignited the screen with her 1969 film debut, "Goodbye, Columbus." One year later she was in her second movie, the biggest of the year, "Love Story." Even though she was savaged most of her career by critics sounding off about her limited acting ability, fans and audiences could not get enough of her. She was Hollywood's princess.
Fame is fleeting, and the now 60-year-old MacGraw is all but forgotten. But Ali MacGraw is what most people want to be, a movie star. And, for a brief time, she was the brightest of them all.
P.S. How could you leave Steve McQueen off your male list?
To the Editor:
I read Paul Farhi's article on the decline of Comedy Central's "South Park" with some dismay [" 'South Park,' Going From Fad to Worse," June 13]. I take issue with the comment of market researcher Irma Zandl: " 'South Park' wasn't able to deliver on too much beyond shock value." "South Park" has always parodied American life, the media and bigotry with a seemingly malicious glee.
Example: A recent "South Park" episode skewered the Academy Awards. A character looking very similar to Whoopie Goldberg walked onstage and bluntly stated, "Republicans are stupid. I hate Republicans." It was a succinct and hilarious representation of the left-wing politics Ms. Goldberg espouses whenever she hosts the Academy Awards.
It's quite a shame to hear that the ratings of "South Park" are falling, as the quality is most assuredly not. I have enjoyed (and still do) "South Park" and see it not as a fad, but as an intelligent, quick-witted parody on society. Those people who watched the show only when it was cool to do so apparently never "got" it in the first place.
Letters should be sent to: Arts Editor, Style Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include a daytime and nighttime phone number and an address. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.